Let’s jump in the time machine and revisit every Yankees draft from 1965-2009 to examine the success of the club with their picks from the first five rounds of every draft. We’ll utilize information from The Baseball Cube to measure early round success. The percentage of major leaguers will include all players drafted by the Yankees, even those who didn’t sign with the organization.
Of the 25 early round draft picks, 10 became major leaguers (40%), highlighted by the late great Thurman Munson in first round in 1968, the 1976 American League Most Valuable Player and winner of two World Series rings . The Yankees also pulled 1968 Rookie Of The Year Stan Bahnsen in the fourth round in 1965.
The 60s Yankees drafts were struck by tragedy, with the untimely death of Munson in 1979, and 1965 second round pick Danny Thompson (didn’t sign with the Yankees), who made his bones in the Twins organization and died of Leukemia following the 1976 season.
Of the 51 early round draft picks, 27 became major leaguers (53%). Ron Guidry is the Yankee great that jumps out at you, a third round pick in 1971. You all know what he went on to do, playing his entire 14 year career in pinstripes and capturing the 1978 Cy Young, along with two World Series rings and countless other accolades.
The 70s weren’t a total bust for the Yankees, but many of the players that went on to achieve success did so in other organizations. The most painful probably being Fred Lynn, who didn’t sign with the Yankees in 1970, and later signed with the Red Sox in 1973. He went on to win the 1975 American League Most Valuable Player award, while also collecting his fair share of Gold Gloves and All-Star appearances.
Other notable players who went on to major league success in other organizations from the 70s drafts were Scott McGregor, LaMarr Hoyt, Willie Upshaw, Pat Tabler, Steve Balboni, and Greg Gagne. Former Yankee manager Buck Showalter was a 1977 fifth round pick, although he never played above Triple-A.
Of the 39 early round draft picks, 20 became major leaguers (51%). Sadly for the Yankees, their most notable draft pick ended up being an all-time great in another sport, 1981 first round pick and NFL legend John Elway. The Yankees were unable to produce any high round picks who produced for the organization in the 80s, although there were some very productive players selected.
Notable names to be selected by the Yankees and produce for other organizations were B.J. Surhoff, Bo Jackson, Todd Stottlemyre, Al Leiter, and J.T. Snow. There was a real football feel to the 80s, which could be one of the many reasons the Yankees weren’t competitive through the decade and into the early 90s.
Of the 49 early round draft picks, 18 became major leaguers (37%). Two words: Derek Jeter. What more needs to be said? The Captain, an all-time great, and key cog for the current Yankees. He was the Yankees 1992 first round pick, winner of five World Series rings, and countless All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves. I could go on and on about Jeter, but instead I’ll just direct you to his Wikipedia page for all his accomplishments.
Other than Jeter, the cupboard was rather bare, as far as Yankee impact goes. The big name from the 90s that is instantly recognizable is 1998 first rounder Mark Prior, who didn’t sign with the Yankees, but went on to become one of the best pitchers in baseball with the Cubs before his career was derailed by injuries. Injuries also took their toll on the career of 1996 third round pick Nick Johnson.
Of the 53 early round draft picks, 18 have become major leaguers (34%), and many others may still be on the way. 2006 was a particularly good year, as the Yankees first five selections (Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Zach McAllister, Colin Curtis, George Kontos) all reached the majors.
Current Yankees include Brett Gardner, Phil Hughes, Austin Romine, and Chamberlain. Kennedy is a star pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Andrew Brackman was cut this winter and signed by the Reds, and 2009 first round pick Gerrit Cole was selected first overall in the 2011 draft by the Pirates. Journeyman slugger Shelly Duncan also came from this decade, in the second round of the 2001 draft.
The Yankees have done a pretty good job of identifying talent in the early rounds of drafts throughout the years. They have produced three franchise greats (Munson, Guidry, Jeter), players who were instrumental in winning seven World Series Championships. Keep in mind, this only covers the first five rounds of each draft, so players drafted later were not included in this discussion.
Who are some of your favorite Yankee draft picks over the years? Which players busted that you thought would be surefire stars?